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Ireland in a tough spot after Rashid Khan shows class

By Ian Callender

Ireland's nightmare day was delayed by only 24 hours as Afghanistan continued to turn the screw in both teams' most important match of the year. It may be the ninth game in three weeks between these fierce Associate rivals but the Ireland batsmen are no nearer solving the spin of Rashid Khan as he rammed home the Afghans' advantage on day two of their Intercontinental Cup clash.

His five wickets for 22 runs in 43 balls undid Ireland's promising start and leaves them a distant 367 runs behind Afghanistan's towering 537 for eight declared. Indeed, Ireland need another 168 just to avoid being asked to follow on and, with three wickets left, there is little chance of that here in India.

This series has been almost single-handedly masterminded by the 18-year-old leg spinner who continues to prove why he will be staying next month for the Indian Premier League.

Unfortunately, when Mohammad Nabi is on the same pitch you rarely have the headlines to yourself and the man who courted controversy with a cheating episode at Stormont in last summer's ODI series was at it again.

Andrew Balbirnie, on 40, edged Dawlat Zadran straight to Nabi at second slip. He clearly dropped the catch behind him but somehow came up with the ball in his other hand before throwing it away in celebration. Balbirnie stood his ground, forcing the umpires to rule on the validity of the catch. They came up with the right decision but, for the second time in eight months, Nabi has breached the spirit of cricket.

Balbirnie was a rare bright spot in the Ireland innings - deservedly going on to reach his first half century in the competition - but after facing 88 balls and hitting nine fours he was caught at short-leg off Zahir Khan, the left arm chinaman bowler whose 19 wickets in his first three I-Cup matches have cost fewer than nine runs each.

Ireland have tamed this teenager so far but the next five wickets were a procession as Rashid strutted his skills.

Ed Joyce was the first to go, pushing down the line with the bowler getting the benefit of any doubt from the Afghan umpire. Why there are no neutral umpires is difficult to believe.

Gary Wilson was next, unluckily given out caught off his back pad, and Niall O'Brien and George Dockrell followed in quick succession, both lbw.

At this stage, with six wickets down, Paul Stirling finally entered the fray nursing a fractured finger on his left hand, but that was not to blame for his dismissal, palpably bowled for a duck, his first in the I-Cup for six years.

John Anderson and Andy McBrine survived to the end but with only Tim Murtagh and Peter Chase to come, it will be amazing if Joyce and William Porterfield - dismissed in the third over - are not batting again before lunch this morning.

Afghanistan added 113 in yesterday's first session, their dominance broken only by a quick one-two by Dockrell which included captain Asghar Stanikzai for a career-best 145.

The umpiring howler of the day came just before Afghanistan's declaration when Chase found the edge of Afsar Zazai's bat and O'Brien took a fine low catch. But Zazai stood on and the officials gave not out. Porterfield protested but with no live television coverage for a review it was pointless.

Zazai, then on 78, reached his maiden hundred 18 balls later ahead of the declaration.

Belfast Telegraph

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